Hover Bother and Getting a Goat (Monday)

After yesterday’s attempt at a picture of a flying hoverfly I had to have another go today and I got the chance on my way round to close up at the end of the day. Yesterday’s was a Syrphus species, today’s was Volucella pellucens.

Volucella pellucens

Volucella pellucens in flight

The warm nights are improving things in the moth trap with catches increasing in number and species diversity. The highlight overnight was a very fresh male goat moth.

goat moth

goat moth

These extraordinary moths have caterpillars that eat wood by tunnelling into live trees, especially willows. As wood is not very nutritious they take several years to grow to full size.

It is also proving a good year for butterflies, with most species well up on recent years on the transects. Just now the summer brood of comma are very obvious, nectaring on bramble and just perched out in the sunshine.

comma

Comma, this one has received some damage to the left wings.

Dragon and damselflies are also enjoying the warmer summer with good numbers of most species. The only ones that were scarce seem to have been the spring species, possibly because last year’s spring was so poor there were few to hatch this year even though the conditions were good. So far I have failed to add any new species to the reserve list, despite there being several that could wander here, especially from the New Forest. For instance there is the scarce blue-tailed damselfly, which could easily get blown in and is known to wander from breeding sites. It is rather similar to the much commoner blue-tailed damselfly, which may be one reason why we have so far failed to find one.

blue-tailed damselfly

blue-tailed damselfly (male)

 

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Still Wild After all These Days

Summer moves on, at Blashford on Sunday I saw my first gatekeeper of the year, oddly a little later than in some years, most other butterflies have been merging a little earlier than usual, so I am not sure why they alone are later.

gatekeeper

The first gatekeeper at the year

It was also the first day I had seen brown hawker dragonfly, although I would guess they have been flying for a couple of days. The first common tern chicks also flew, even if a little tentatively, hopefully we will see over seventy fledge this year. Another first for the year was Essex skipper, they at every like small skipper, but tend to fly a couple of weeks later.

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

At least I think it is an Essex skipper!

I had another go at getting a flight shot of a hoverfly, a very frustrating thing to try, this was my best attempt.

hoverfly

hoverfly

I went on a walk down the Dockens Water to check where we will need to go Himalayan balsam pulling and if we have missed any plants. I found a few, but also a number of native marshland plants.

marsh bedstraw

marsh bedstraw

water forget-me-not

water forget-me-not

30 Days Wild – Day 4: A Day for Orchids

After working in the morning with the Sunday volunteer team path trimming, I got out on site for an hour or so in the afternoon. This is peak orchid flowering time, we don’t get many at Blashford and this year’s dry spring seems to have done them no favours, however I did see four species. First was a small group of bee orchid near the Goosander hide.

bee orchid

bee orchid flower

The packet of pollen, known as pollinia can be seen hanging down in the centre, there would have been two, so one has probably been carried away by a visiting insect.

I also found single specimens of common spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

and also a southern marsh orchid.

marsh orchid

southern marsh orchid

I also came across a common twayblade, but it was too dark for a picture.

The sunshine was a bit on and off, even with a brief shower at one point, but in the sunnier periods there were quite good numbers of insects out and about. My best picture of an insect today was of a hoverfly Xylota sylvarum, a very fine species with a golden-haired tip to the abdomen.

Xylota sylvarum

Xylota sylvarum, doing a bit of wing cleaning.

My last thing to do for the day was to clean out and feed the puss moth caterpillars, hatched from some eggs laid by a female I caught in the trap. Rearing caterpillars is one of those things I enjoy doing each year, the species vary according to what we come across, in recent years we have reared lime hawk-moth, eyed hawk-moth, iron prominent and alder moth amongst others.

puss moth young caterpillar

A young puss moth caterpillar, they get very impressive when they are fully grown.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 30!

 

Well it has been a wild 30 Days. I started as a citizen of the EU watching puffins in the sunshine, I ended it pulling nettles in a country with a parliament in meltdown, one party with no leader and one leader with no party. It has been a weird 30 Days and one that we will not forget in a hurry. You never know what the future holds, but just now this feeling seems especially strong. However those puffins are still there, but now feeding their pufflings, and all that wild is out there and one certainty is that we need it to keep on being there. Doing a “Wild thing” reminds us that most of the world goes on, empires rise and fall but (hopefully) puffins will go on and on, along with all the rest of the great and glorious wild.

I have looked for the “Wild things” on Skomer, from the car driving up the M42, in my back garden and, of course, at Blashford Lakes and in at least some small way found some wild everywhere.

My last Wild Day was spent at Blashford, in the morning I was working with the volunteers where we were continuing to clear nettles along the paths. At lunchtime, sitting at one of the picnic tables, a smallish hoverfly caught my attention when it landed on the table top.

Chalcosyrphus nemorum 2

Chalcosyrphus nemorum

It is a woodland species, often found in wet alder woods, so I would guess it could be quite common in the alder carr next to the Centre. Seen up close it is very smart, with a highly polished thorax and a slightly comical quiff.

Despite a forecast that seemed to promise rain in the afternoon, it actually cleared up somewhat and there were insects about and the reptile surveyors reported their best survey of the year in the southern area of the reserve. The grass snake was out again by Ivy South hide and pleasing photographers.

I had to go to Roydon Woods to collect some materials, but as I went to my car to set off I saw this little bug on a dark mullein plant by the car park.

 

Grypocoris stysi

Grypocoris stysi

Amongst the more interesting reports from around the reserve today were the great crested grebe on Ivy Lake having two chicks and the common scoter being seen again on Ibsley Water.

Although the evening was mainly cloudy it remained warm and I went out in my garden to see what last Wild I could find. I quickly came across a female small white roosting in the “meadow”.

small white

roosting small white

I love their spotted eyes, something you can never normally appreciate.

I know I probably get to do more Wild Things than most people and I am very thankful for it, I am not sure I could get on very well without at least some wildlife in every day. Even today we are still surrounded by wildlife, not as much as I would like and often we fail to see it. We could probably all benefit from opening our eyes more and taking a little time to really see what is living alongside us.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 12

We had another National Moth Night event at Blashford on Sunday, although only a few people attended I think they all had a good time looking at a fair range of moth species and photographing a good number of them.

Out on the reserve the mute swan pair on the Ivy Silt Pond were feeding on a floating mat of branched bur-reed with their six small cygnets. Actually I must check that this is actually branched bur-reed rather than one of the other species, the New Forest is home to the much rarer floating bur-reed.

mite swan family feeding

mute swan pair and cygnets

The day was mostly dull with rain threatening, but right at the end it brightened somewhat and a few insects started to fly including my first Leucozona lucorum of the year. These hoverflies look a bit like bees, but are not that convincing compared with some other species, but perhaps the resemblance is good enough for some predators to avoid them.

Leucozona

Leucozona lucorum

It was even warm enough in the end to tempt out some grass snake and I managed to snap this one near the Centre, I think the milky eyes indicate it is about to shed its skin, which might also be why I was able to get so close.

grass snake

grass snake

A Sticky Day

I had a public event to look at moths today, a pretty tricky thing to do as there were almost no moths in the trap! Luckily Jim had kept a few back in the fridge from yesterday. Still it was thin fare, as sometimes happens at this time of year when the nights can still be cold. Despite this by the time we had finished the sun was out strongly and there were lots of insects about, although few of them were moths.

Near the Centre pond there were a few hoverflies including the common marshland species Tropida scita.

Tropida scita

Tropida scita, male

Rather less common and possibly a new species for the reserve, but I will need to check the list, was Pipizella virens.

Pipizella virens

Pipizella virens, male

Just when I thought it was going to be a really good insect day, the rain arrived and when it rained it really poured! I retreated to the office, probably something I should have done anyway.

It did clear up somewhat later and a visitor called my attention to a water stick insect in  the Centre pond, it had pulled itself out of the water onto the top of a floating bit of plant stem. Close by were several two-pronged “things” sticking out of the stem, I had noticed these earlier and not known what they were. It slowly dawned that they were water stick insect eggs and this was a laying female inserting her eggs into the floating stem.

water stick insect egg-laying 2

water stick insect egg-laying

Each egg has two white “wires” sticking up from it, their function is apparently unknown, but could be a sort of breathing tube for the developing embryo. This female did not get to lay eggs for very long, before a male came along and disturbed her, as she tried to get away he grabbed her breathing tube with his front legs, he seemed very keen not to let her free.

stick insect pair

stick insect pair, although the female did not seem that interested.

I had never seen any of this behaviour before, although I have looked into this pond probably thousands of times, it just shows that you don’t need to go very far to see interesting and new things.

Apart from insects the day was quiet, certainly the birds seen were mostly unremarkable. There were about 300 swift over Ibsley Water during the lunchtime rain and 2 yellow-legged gull in the large group of, mostly immature, large gulls loafing around on the shingle spit and islands.

An Unexpected Visitor

Another warm day on the reserve today, which is good at this time of year. Most insects prefer the warmth and there are good numbers of dragonflies out now along with hoards of damselflies and increasing numbers of butterflies. However my insect of the day was a tiny weevil I found on mullein at the back of the Centre at lunchtime, I think it is one called Cionus hortulanus.

weevil

weevil

I did also have a go at taking some flight shots, not of birds, but of a hoverfly, I think I have got some way to go before I can say I have mastered this particular type of photography! It is Volucella pellucens now sometimes called the great pied hoverfly.

Volucella pellucens in flight.

Volucella pellucens in flight.

Locking up at the end of the day the grass snakes were once again in front of the Ivy South hide and I got a shot of two coiled together that nicely filled the frame.

grass snakes coiled together

grass snakes coiled together

The big surprise of the day came at lunchtime, I went over to the Tern hide to check on the ponies grazing the shore of Ibsley Water and scanning the lake I spotted a most unseasonal visitor, a very fine adult drake goldeneye, goodness known what he is doing on the reserve in late June! Sadly he was much too far away for a picture though.

Many Eyes

I was over at Blashford this afternoon, although I was mostly confined to the office, luckily there were people who were not. There was a school group in and they made a couple of good finds. Whilst pond dipping they found a downy emerald dragonfly that had fallen back into the water, they rescued it and put it to dry on plants beside the pond.

downy emerald drying

downy emerald drying

I took the opportunity to get a few really close up shots as well, like this head-shot, it really is “downy” and “emerald”!

downy emerald close up

downy emerald close up

The dragonfly was not their only find though, they also found a very fine ground beetle, Carabus granulatus.

Carabus granulatus

Carabus granulatus

Not only is it also a rather splendid metallic sheened insect but it also has wonderful sculpturing on the elytra (wing cases).

As I was outside to take the pictures and the sun was out I had a quick look around the pond area and found two Rhingia campestris, a common hoverfly with and extraordinary long “snout”.

Rhingia campestris male

Rhingia campestris male

The female was very fat, presumably full of eggs.

Rhingia campestris female

Rhingia campestris female

Birds reported today were at least 10 swift over Ibsley Water, 3 common sandpiper, over 30 common tern and 2 Arctic tern also on Ibsley Water.